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The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath CD (album) cover

THE BEDLAM IN GOLIATH

The Mars Volta

 

Heavy Prog

3.47 | 426 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

laplace
Prog Reviewer
2 stars The Mars Volta have not significantly shifted in sound between albums, but in a display of democracy at work, fans who resented the noise and psyche content of the previous albums got their wish, as The Bedlam in Goliath rocks almost from start to finish. To this reviewer, that's a shame, because it gives the band too much time to fall into grooves, stretching the length of time between transitions to unbearable levels. You'd better like the number eight, because plenty of passages are repeated that many times in a row. Of course, plenty of bands thrive under these circumstances (think Magma for glory in reiteration) but somehow, most of the songs on this album seem unnaturally extended.

There's a relevant change; enter one Thomas Pridgen, an extraordinarily active, quick and robotic drummer who, on paper, sounds like a well-judged replacement for the previous, but perhaps blamelessly, is introduced at the same time as a relatively weak batch of songs that require a lot of effort to support. The kit is his department, so he translates this necessity into an array of quick, metal-wards fills that verge on the inappropriate at times. When the songwriting is good - Wax Simulacra, a perfectly-judged and bouncy single and Ouroboros, a powerful, eponymously-structural anthem that feels similar in spirit to the songs on Frances the Mute being the exceptional tracks this time around - he is perfect. I initially placed too much blame on his shoulders before the truth (or at least, my truth) occurred to me - point all accusations at the songs themselves!

Although structure is simplified a great deal compared to that of the previous two albums, other elements are exaggerated further still. Cedric's singing is, depending on how you look at it, more ethereal or more Prince-like than ever. During the segues in Goliath, his voice soars far into the emo-zone layer. The lyrics have neither become significantly more opaque nor syntactic, but you will hear them more often than ever. Yes, Omar's guitar tone can still be, ah, piercing, but the amount of soloing space seems a little reduced this time around - he must get his fill on his frequent solo releases. If you haven't actually heard the band (and this is always a mistake I make in my reviews), then do try the samples, but if you can't, try to imagine bizarro-punk Rush from another planet. We'll call this planet Tourniquet, and you pronounce the trailing T, because the natives find it extremely difficult to learn human languages, especially English and Spanish.

Being that the most well-written and compact songs rein in the band enough to make them spectacular, it follows that the longest songs on Bedlam are the weakest. Metatron is a rock-groove-athon which showcases the first of many stumbling-block signatures (could these be the traps for the audience they mentioned in their interviews?) and I have a criticism concerning these - they're not all that surprising if you play them eight times in a row. I know that that's not a particularly insightful observation but it's one I feel that somebody should make. Another quirk of the album that fades quickly in merit (and will especially irritate fans of Frances the Mute) is the way that all the heavy songs end suddenly with little fanfare, instead collapsing straight into the next - it's as if Omar & co. listened to their first two albums and decided that they sounded too pretentious, when they're so very good at that. Next comes Goliath which, as has been mentioned in our forums, is akin to the second coming of Rage Against the Machine and to my ears, that's no unqualified compliment. Soothsayer, at least, has a spicily unconventional choice of instruments along with a hazy, alternate-history-retro feel, but the song is still a huge jammy mess. Luckily, it's an endearing mess.

Cavelettas, which gets a scathing paragraph of its own, is so positioned and proportioned as to be the linchpin of the album but, well, I can't really hesitate to call it the worst Volta moment so far, as it is the song where the gaps between exciting moments are so stark. You could almost call it the hardcore Tales from Topographic Oceans. If I complained about the Bedlam rule of eight before, then here's eight squared. It, in fact, does the same thing over and over again to the point where you can no longer ignore the truly skewed lyrics. To me, the song has a worse demand to reward ratio than the most arcane and inadequately-captured RIO improv. Not to put too fine a point on it, I don't really like this song very much.

The Mars Volta represent the bleeding edge of progressive rock to many, but with this album I'm afraid they're coasting somewhat. A resurgence in ideas (along with a little extra time between studio releases on the road to recovery) notwithstanding, I'll look to the band for a few great songs an album and add them to a compilation of my own. As for you, do investigate this album if you're a progger with a background in hard-rock or emocore, or if you value tightness, consistency and musicianship above all - every member of the band is uncommonly skilled - or lastly if you're a dinosaur trying to stay in touch with modern music; despite my unfavourable review, it may suit you in exactly the way it doesn't suit me. Please could you bring back the noise?

laplace | 2/5 |

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